Emma Stone Deleted Every Email She’s Ever Received, And I Totally Get Why

We live in a weird technological age, in which priceless email correspondence is archived right alongside junk and spam.

In “information theory,” when we try to measure the value of data, we often refer back to an engineering concept called “signal-to-noise.” The clarity of a signal is judged by not only its strength, but also by the amount of “static” around it. This is why most email inboxes now provide filters, which let the user siphon out garbage according to certain parameters: Filters improve the signal-to-noise ratio.

All of this is a heady way of saying, man, do I ever sympathize with Emma Stone.

Stone’s personal contact info — including her cell phone number and private email address — were compromised during the November 2014 Sony Pictures hack. That sensitive information eventually made its way over to WikiLeaks; inevitably, strangers sent the actress unwanted, unsolicited communication.

Her entire interview with WSJ Magazine is funny, blithe, and effortless, and I can’t help but identify with so much of it. For instance: As a kid Stone suffered from panic attacks (counterintuitively, theater helped mitigate her social anxiety). As a 14-year-old tech-geek, Stone convinced her parents to let her go to Hollywood by showing them — wait for it — a PowerPoint presentation she’d made.

Stone makes no bones about being protective of her private life (“It’s all so speculative and baseless,” she says of celebrity gossip). But when it came to her own private contact information leaking, Stone freaked out:

“Then I did one of the worst things ever, which was react really quickly,” she says. “I was getting all these emails and texts from people I didn’t know—’Hi, I’m Joe from the U.K. I like your movies’—and I was so overwhelmed that I went to my in-box and I deleted all my emails. In about a 30-second span, I hit ‘Select All’ and ‘Delete Forever,’ and thousands of emails, like six years of emails, are now gone forever. I was just so freaked out that someone was in there.”

The fact that her account itself hadn’t been hacked—that technically, no one was “in there”—was of little comfort. “It was horrible. I cried for like an hour. Most of the emails I’m mourning I can still talk to the person and get them back. But there’s others where the person is actually gone. It really sucks.” I wonder how many unwanted emails she must have gotten to prompt such a dramatic response. Hundreds? Thousands?

“No, no,” Stone says, suddenly grinning sheepishly. “It was probably five emails and five texts. I just went there.”

Oh, dear. I’m no celebrity, but I have also “gone there.” And it’s all so difficult to explain that “overreaction” to someone who hasn’t yet “gone there.”

Around August of last year, I believed — with fair reason, to my credit — that strangers were potentially snooping around my private life. However brashly, I one-click-deleted my Flickr account, with its nine years of photographs; I also locked an online diary I’d been keeping since 1995. It wasn’t that those public accounts would’ve contained anything bad: It’s just that I no longer remembered what was in them. I wasn’t sure how sensitive the information they might’ve contained was. I wasn’t sure exactly how vulnerable I’d made myself or my loved ones (or, for that matter, how vulnerable I’d made anyone I’d ever mundanely interacted with).

What’s weird is, I didn’t anticipate the loss I would feel right afterward. There’s this bizarre sense of grief when you delete parts of yourself out of some paranoid sense of invasion. In the WSJ profile, Stone laughs that part off, very “oh, it wasn’t even that bad!” She dismisses her own panic and fear as kind of misplaced or silly.

So what could possibly compel a woman — famous or not — to delete every email she’s ever received, all because of a supposed five or ten messages?

I brought up signal-to-noise ratio right at the beginning of this piece, because it’s directly analogous to social interaction. “The Magic Ratio of Positive and Negative Moments” is a frequently-cited piece; it holds that one negative comment weighs the same as three or four positive ones, say. (It depends on which study you cite, of course, but you’ll come up with similar numbers.) In this way, several criticisms, all delivered in a row — ratatat-tat — might have a disastrous effect on anyone, from a sensitive child to a partner in a tenuous marriage, simply because it would require exponential positivity to counter them.

And this concept of social transactions explains, very well, why just five or ten unsolicited pieces of correspondence might be enough to motivate someone to abruptly delete the contents of her inbox.

Perhaps Stone laughs off this incident because she realizes that, for many, the threat can be so much more severe. I get that, too. In the end, I backed far enough away, I didn’t get the brunt of it, either. (When other people are hit so much harder by the same thing, you experience a sort of “survivor’s guilt.”)

Perhaps, with a month’s distance or more, Stone wonders how much danger she was ever in. But I, for one, can verify that those feelings are real.

I can also tell you that, in the aftermath, you gaslight yourself. You wonder why you deleted that stuff. You wonder why you sabotaged yourself, why you reacted as extremely as you did. The sense of loss — in this case, Stone’s “digital loss,” of a library of correspondence — is even more pronounced, because you’ve done it to yourself.

[LA Times]
[WSJ Magazine]